Lebanese-Armenian fashion designer Krikor Jabotian started his atelier at the age of 23. Six years on and he’s built a solid reputation for his luxurious haute couture designs that have just gone global. He sat down with LT to talk about inspiration, embroidery and that Regina King Emmy Award dress
Lebanese fashion designer Krikor Jabotian hit the international headlines in September when American actress Regina King was awarded an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie for her role in ABC’s American Crime. When she accepted the award at the Los Angeles ceremony, it was one of his dresses she was wearing – an elegant white ankle-length gown, embellished with pearls… at the after party she sported another of his designs. “We are thrilled to have our first Hollywood appearance by an award winner. The first day I didn’t really understand what was happening. The second day I understood how big this was,” Jabotian says, sitting in his Tabaris atelier. “It’s created a lot of exposure and buzz for us – a lot of people were requesting the dress afterwards.”
Though this was the first Krikor Jabotian design to appear on the Red Carpet in Hollywood, the in-demand designer is already well established in Lebanon. After graduating from the Beirut ESMOD school of fashion, he went on to work in renowned Lebanese designer Elie Saab’s creative department. “It was a super-enriching experience, especially working one-on-one with Elie Saab,” Jabotian says. “He taught me to love embroidery; I used to have a repulsion towards it, then I thought if it was done with taste, you could turn embroidery into jewels.” It’s since become one of the defining characteristics of his style.
After less than a year of working with Saab, Jabotian launched his first collection at Starch Foundation, a non-profit organization that helps launch the work of emerging designers. His evening collection of long gowns came in midway between couture and ready-to-wear and was an instant hit with the public. “When I first started in Starch I never imagined that soon I would have my own atelier and launch myself as an independent designer. But, then I felt that people were relating to my work and they started placing orders for custom-made gowns. It was quite a huge responsibility at a very young age,” Jabotian says.
At 23, Jabotian launched his own Achrafieh atelier and after only a year the demand for his work was so high that he moved to a bigger space in Tabaris. Six years on and the business has become a mini-empire. He has back-to-back appointments with clients in his spacious atelier; spread over three floors of an old building where he works on custom-made haute couture gowns, often for weddings. He has transformed what was a small atelier into a big family business, employing his mother, father, sister and close friends. It’s become his second home. “I spend much more time here with my team than in my apartment. I believe that working in a healthy environment with people you trust is very important for being productive,” Jabotian says.
Jabotian cites Dior as an early influence, but closer to home his grandmother was a significant figure. He used to watch black and white Egyptian movies with her, during which she would tell him about the different cuts, necklines and flared skirts she used to wear in the ‘50s. “She used to sew her own dresses when she was younger – I learned a lot from her.”
Being of Armenian origin, the country’s culture has always had a strong presence for him: “We went to Armenian schools and learned the history. It’s a beautiful way to preserve our heritage and culture. I think it’s quite interesting to have these different worlds combining indirectly in my work.”
Though Jabotian stays abreast of the latest trends, working mainly in haute couture, he sets his own rules. “When you do couture it’s like you are selling dreams and each designer’s own fetish, their fantasies, their world. I attract a specific kind of clientele because they can relate to my world.”
It’s all about trust
The first process of a commission starts with a meeting in Jabotian’s atelier, to establish the client’s personality and tastes. “I might get inspired by her personality, her job, or the way she dresses,” Jabotian says. During the second appointment Jabotian shows the client a proposal – perhaps a sketch, fabric suggestions, embroidery and samples. “If it clicks, then we’ll be able to work together. The client needs to trust me, because when the client comes here I don’t have ready-made dresses for her to try on. It’s a matter of trust and energy.”
Jabotian was approached by Vogue Italy to take part in the Vogue Fashion Dubai Experience, which took place in October. Eight designers from around the world were selected to create a collection and share it on a runway in front of fashion gurus and industry experts. The ready-to-wear line for Spring/Summer 2016 was his first runway fashion show. “It was a toned-down version of what I usually do. I kept the same spirit and ambiance but made something more practical… though it is still very dramatic,” he laughs.
Krikor Jabotian Atelier
01 204793, 71 883737
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Dakdouk Building, 4th Floor, Tabaris, Selim Bustros Street, Beirut